Big Finish Review: Doctor Who – Ravenous 2
Eighth Doctor boxsets continue to prove to be among the highest quality and event-piece releases from Big Finish, and Ravenous 2 is no exception. There is always a five-day countdown on social media, there are engrossing and expansive story arcs across multiple releases and the stories feature some of the best companions to travel with the Doctor.
The second release in the four-set series, following on from Ravenous 1, sees the Doctor, Helen and Liv visit Liv’s home planet Kaldor, experience Christmas festivities in Europe and once more encounter the Eleven, this time trapped inside a dying TARDIS.
Released by Big Finish Productions in October 2018 and available exclusively on their website until December 31st 2018,Ravenous 2 stars Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan, is directed by Ken Bentley and produced by David Richardson.
Here are the synopses...
Having reunited his companions, the Doctor decides to lift their spirits by treating each of them to a trip to their home world.
On Kaldor Liv is confronted by a face from her past, and on Earth Helen must summon all her skill and knowledge to help save her friends from eternal damnation.
But try as they might to stay out of danger, dark forces are emerging. Dark enough to strike fear into the hearts of a Time Lord.
Escape from Kaldor by Matt Fitton
Returning to a home world she’d rather forget, Liv reluctantly accompanies Helen to the grand opening of a luxury shopping mall. But when a glitch in the system sends the Robots of Death on a rampage, Liv’s past comes crashing down about her.
Better Watch Out by John Dorney
The Doctor hopes to take Liv’s mind off recent events by treating his companions to a traditional European Christmas. But not everybody is full of the spirit of Christmas when a wave of misery follows the Krampus as they run through the streets of Salzburg.
Fairytale of Salzburg by John Dorney
With the Doctor and most of the population condemned to hell, Liv and Helen race against time to discover the source of all this chaos, and to find the one man who can save the people of Salzburg from eternal damnation.
Seizure by Guy Adams
As if it wasn’t enough to be trapped in the labyrinth of a dying TARDIS and pursued by a ghost, the team find themselves face to face once more with the Eleven. But the Doctor has bigger things to worry about when he discovers they’re being hunted by the only creature to strike fear into the hearts of a Time Lord: The Ravenous.
The mix of stories in Ravenous 2 is done in an interesting and engaging way just like Ravenous 1. This time, there is a standalone episode featuring a Classic era-setting and antagonists, a Christmas-themed two-parter in the style of the New Series, and an arc episode featuring Big Finish’s own creation the Eleven.
Cover designer Tom Webster deserves special recognition for some fantastic artwork that adds vibrancy, life and colour to the stories when listening. Music maestro Jamie Robertson also provides a lively and exciting score that had me humming Christmas carols (in October!) for a while afterwards.
Escape From Kaldor
The TARDIS trio – now long established as a fun and functional team and finally reunited after Ravenous 1 – take a trip to Liv’s home planet. Liv encounters her sister Tula Chenka, but it isn’t all smiles and happy memories – instead, Nicola Walker and Claire Rushbrook play the sisterly relationship as one tainted by animosity and regret.
It is a fast-paced story, with short scenes, edited with energy, never dwelling too long in one location before switching to another set of characters. This makes the story feel very modern despite the Classic backdrop – again we have the Eighth Doctor bridging ‘Classic’ and ‘New’ Doctor Who in an organic and entirely believable fashion.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story is how it delves into Kaldor class structure. Matt Fitton’s criticisms of stratified society with an unfair distribution of wealth and autonomy is unapologetically socialist and political in revealing the struggle of the robot workers and the selfishness of corporate overlords.
The Kaldor robots have their own arc, but do not always dominate the story according to the typical robots-taking-over-the-world/city/country trope, instead playing into the slaves-and-masters notion as the everyday workers being exploited by the system of big business and corporate greed. In this regard, the story is reminiscent of 2017’s televised story Thin Ice – dealing with politics in a way that pushes boundaries like Doctor Who has often done.
Better Watch Out
Forming the first half of a two-part story, Better Watch Out is a fantastic opportunity for a deeply-layered tale that fully explores themes and concepts, chief among them being Christmas and the interplay between goodness and evil.
Everything kicks off with Paul McGann narrating a bedtime story (honestly, if the whole story or set was like that, I wouldn’t mind at all!). It quickly becomes clear another prominent theme is narration and storytelling; fittingly, the various disparate parts of the story do not yet fit together here and need to be completed in the second half.
Salzburg, Austria, is an evocative setting for a Christmas tale, and it is an inspired idea to draw on the mythology of the tradition itself as the cornerstone of a Doctor Who tale. John Dorney’s tale is atmospheric, harrowing and funny, with the looming threat of the Krampus – a creature with the horns and hooves of a goat and a face from every nightmare ever – is built up very well. When the earth beneath Salzburg erupts and a horde of devilish imps emerge to wreak havoc, it all feels organic and well-timed, a clear benefit of the expanded run-time.
In terms of character, McGann is likely having the most fun and is possibly at his best when being irreverent and flippant, especially against such as background of menace and horror. Siân Phillips and Raad Rawi sharing some fantastic scenes together, with their identity being forefront on the list of mysteries to be revealed in part two.
Fairytale of Salzburg
The tale is not so much a match-up between the Doctor and the Christmas devil, more an exploration of Christmas itself, the nature of storytelling and the interplay of wishes and desires. The Doctor finds himself in Hell facing off against the Krampus, while Helen and Liv continue to deal with the mischievous horde of imps.
This is a story not always told in the right order, and is all the better off for it dramatically. Indeed, soon into the story we are told by the Doctor that everything, ultimately, will be alright and that there is a way to ‘undo’ all that has happened. Normally this would undercut the narrative tension – and to an extent it does here – but John Dorney’s focus is always elsewhere on the nature of narration and storytelling, which is done in a very intriguing way.
The different aspects introduced in Better Watch Out finally come together in Fairytale of Salzburg, and the resolution is signposted long beforehand in a rewarding and believable way. Playing heavily into the mythology behind the tradition and the duality of angels and demons, Fairytale of Salzburg has long-reaching consequences and is thoroughly rewarding to listen to.
It all comes full circle, and the ending – a very happy ending – is genuinely touching, heartfelt and puts a smile on your face.
In this fourth episode, we finally meet the Ravenous, the stuff of Time Lord nightmares who feast on the regenerative life energy of Time Lords themselves. They have a horrific sound design full of screams and squeals, and would be enough of a threat themselves if it wasn’t for the Eleven being the one to drag the Doctor and friends into the fray when the Eleven asks to be saved.
In many ways, what is most terrifying is when the Doctor is truly terrified, vulnerable and not in control on the situation like he usually is. Add to that the fact that the criminal Eleven, of all people, is even more scared, the threat is heightened even further.
The Doctor’s TARDIS lands inside another TARDIS, one driven insane by what resides inside it, affecting any and all Time Lords who appear within it due to their empathic link with TARDISes. The first half of the story takes a deep dive into the internal physics and dimensional puzzles of a TARDIS interior, and that telepathic connection.
The small cast is small (with only two characters outside the main cast and the Eleven) but adept, and the sound design is deep and detailed, drawing listeners in as befitting a tale like this one. As for the cliffhanger ending… well, it is simple, yet big.
Seizure is not as long as the first three episodes – forming a simpler, more straightforward tale – although this is only boxset number two, and as we are only halfway through the Ravenous arc, forty-five minutes is a good length to whet the appetite for the horrors and mysteries to come.
A forty-minute music suite split across the fourth and fifth discs is, as usual, a very welcome addition to the full hour of behind-the-scenes interviews. Just how much content is packed onto the discs reinforces the premium quality and status of these releases.
Highlights from the extras include Matt Fitton’s dive into Kaldor society’s class structure and lore, anecdotes from the cast’s different trips to Salzburg in real life and adoration for The Sound of Music, and the tantalising hints at what lies ahead from the creative team.
It is fantastic and genuinely exciting to ponder how, although we know where the Eighth Doctor ends up at the end of his life, we know nothing of Helen and Liv’s future with him, unlike most other companions who feature in stories told by Big Finish. This open creative space means that the Eighth Doctor is still forging ahead and making new ground just as much as he was in the early 2000s.
Ravenous 2 is as good as, or probably better than, Ravenous 1. Better still, next year is jam-packed with Eighth Doctor releases, not only the remainder of the Ravenous saga but more Time War and Lucie Miller, plus The Legacy of Time and whatever other surprises that lie in store!